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When working with field leaders, I’m often asked how to sponsor “good” people – ones who aspire to become leaders.  And on occasion, a leader tells me she only talks to people who “prequalify” as a solid prospective consultant. Ouch! I believe, without hesitation, that we can’t tell if someone will be wildly successful. We can have a hunch, for sure. But too many times I’ve worked with new consultants who just needed encouragement and someone who believed in them. What a rush to see them succeed! I would hate to eliminate them from the start. So I always respond by saying, “Sponsor everyone because you never know – you just never know.”

Recently I learned about an informal field test from Shelley Whitmarsh, VP of Sales for SimplyFun. When Shelley was in the field, she and a fellow team leader noticed that Shelley’s team grew proportionately faster so they set out to determine why. Was it personal sponsoring? No – they sponsored about the same number each year. Was it the amount of time they dedicated to building their business? No – that was also roughly the same. Yet when Shelley’s team tripled in size, her friends team doubled.

Here’s what they came up with. When Shelley presented the business opportunity – to everyone – she presented it as just that – a business opportunity. Her friend had a different approach. When she presented the business opportunity – to everyone – she positioned it as a part-time job. That “full-time vs. part-time” mentality worked it’s way through their organization. In Shelley’s team, more aspired to become team leaders, which led to overall team growth. Now, when asked if there is a secret ingredient to sponsoring future leaders, I’ll say, “Sponsor everyone and tell them about the advantages of building a substantial business from the start –because you never know – you just never know.”

.With over 25 years of direct sales experience, Lori develops training packages for start up companies and works with established companies to update sales training and methods.  Lori is an accomplished speaker and specializes in creating presentations tailored to meet each company’s specific needs.

Hmmm, I never thought this would be a high priority topic – or even a blog topic at all.  But a recent incident made it come front and center. I was working on a training project out of town, and realized that I needed a car. Since I was already at the office, the company arranged for a car to be picked up at a nearby hotel. How convenient.  My colleague and I headed over and found a very small rental counter tucked in a corner of the lobby.  The representative looked over the paperwork and said she just happened to have a 2-seat convertible sports car for only $19.00 a day more.  We didn’t mean to offend, but we chuckled at the thought of pulling up to the office in a bright red corvette, hair flying in the wind. “No thanks,” we said.  “The car that was ordered would be just fine.”

The representative asked how much luggage we had because our car would only accommodate a few pieces.  A larger one would only be $14.00 a day more. “No thanks”, we said. “The car our company ordered would be just fine.” “GPS?” she asked. “Only 13.00 a day more.”  We declined and asked if she would kindly give us car that was ordered. “Sure thing”, she said.  And I would imagine you want insurance, right”? Only $6.00 a day more.” We held firm and said we were a bit behind schedule. “Let’s just finish up then, she said.  But I highly recommend prepaying for gas.”

At this point, I was finding it hard not to laugh, so I started writing a talk in my head about the danger of excessive upselling. In the background, I heard that something would only cost $2.00 a day more. Then I found out just how far my friend could be pushed when she screamed “NO. JUST GIVE ME THE CAR!” The representative said she had the perfect one for us, but I think I detected a smirk.

Did you know that a top rental car agency still has at least one car with hand crank windows and manual door locks?   I sent a picture to my kids so they could see what it was like in the good old days. “Yes, she got her laugh, but I was ahead of the game because I walked away with the framework for a talk, inspiration for this blog and some wonderful nostalgic memories.  Yes, we do want our sales force to upsell. But let’s make sure they don’t go overboard!

Lori Moser

With over 25 years of direct sales experience, Lori develops training packages for start up companies and works with established companies to update sales training and methods. Lori is an accomplished speaker and  specializes in creating presentations tailored to meet each company’s specific needs.

Lots of direct sales companies have Twitter accounts today. The problem is, few companies seem to know what to do with them. Without a clear understanding of WHY the company has the account (besides, everyone else has one so we should too) companies are broadcasting a stream of ads, without anything to show for it.

If your company is trying to figure out the best way to use Twitter, the first thing you have to ask is “Who do we want to talk to?” And in order to answer that question, you need to understand how Twitter fits into your larger marketing plan, of which social media is a part. Are you trying to find new recruits? Increase brand recognition? Increase sales? Each of these marketing goals may have a different audience. So first figure out who you want to talk to, and then you can figure out if that audience is on Twitter.

If your goal is to reach a consumer audience, frequent tweets about the features and benefits of your product line is the wrong way to go. First, no one on Twitter likes a steady stream of ads, and they’ll simply ignore you. But also, a consumer audience is often easier to find on tools such as Facebook.

Does that mean you should abandon Twitter? No. But it does mean you need a different strategy.

Instead of engaging consumers directly on Twitter, you may be better off engaging the folks that INFLUENCE your consumers. This is often popular bloggers. They often do spend time on Twitter. However a steady stream of ads won’t work with them either. Instead, you need to talk to them. Find out what’s important to them. Retweet their content, and share content they’ll find valuable. You have to actually spend time on Twitter talking to people if you want it to work for you. Simply sending out a tweet a day with information about your product or opportunity won’t do a thing for you. It takes community management to be successful.

Twitter, along with other social networks, has particular types of users. Depending on your goals, you have to engage in a certain way. It takes a skilled community manager with the time to invest in building relationships for your brand, if you want your social networking engagement to bring measurable results for your brand.

Does your company use Twitter? How’s it working for you? Who are you trying to reach? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

This post was originally published on Jennifer Fong’s Direct Sales and Social Media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com.

Last night I signed up for NetFlix.  Now I realize that I am probably the last living American to do so.  But I’ve been a Blockbuster Video loyalist for decades, and wasn’t in any hurry to change that status.  But the Netflix business model finally hooked me, when I discovered we could stream videos on demand to our TV through our Wii, and have 1 DVD at a time, all for a monthly fee that was less than 2 videos a month at Blockbuster.

And it really got me to thinking about business models, and how getting too comfortable with ours can cause us to lose touch with what appeals to even our most loyal customers.  You see, Blockbuster was on top for a really long time.  And holding that percentage of the market share, in my opinion, made them short-sighted.  They didn’t even consider the competition anymore.

Yet the competition was innovating.  It started through a mail order service…where DVDs from a list you create online would be shipped to you to keep as long as you like. Then, when you’re done, you ship it back (postage free) and get another DVD on your list.  For some people this was super convenient.  Yet for people like me, their loyalists, we wanted to choose the movie we were in the mood for the night we wanted to watch it.  The NetFlix model didn’t meet that need, and so we stayed with Blockbuster.

The next thing I was aware of was the on-demand model.  We’re not big TV watchers in my house (heck, I’ve still got a VCR!), so we didn’t upgrade to a cable box until we were forced to by our cable company.  At that point we got a whole collection of on-demand programming that we could access for a fee similar to what we would pay at Blockbuster (as well as a collection of free children’s programming).  Without leaving our house.  You couldn’t keep your movie for a week (my kids like to watch things multiple times), but it was sure convenient to not have to leave the house on rainy nights.  We took advantage of some programming through the cable company. Yet we still remained loyal to Blockbuster too, signing up for the loyalty program, etc.

But then Blockbuster began to betray our trust.  They switched from 7 day rentals to 5 day rentals, and didn’t tell anyone (well I assume it was on our paper receipt, but they failed to mention it.)  We racked up late fees as a result (didn’t Blockbuster a while back do away with late fees?  Yeah, not anymore.  We didn’t know that either.)  The loyalists that they should have been rewarding and courting were experiencing betrayal after betrayal.  We didn’t matter to them!

Then I saw a blog post about how we could have 1 DVD at a time in the mail, plus on demand programming to our TV, for under $10 a month through NetFlix. I fiddled a bit and saw how easy it would be to set up. It was a no-brainer.

By the way, have YOU seen any online social efforts to reach me through Blockbuster, either through sponsored blog posts, Twitter, etc.?  To retain my business?  I certainly haven’t. Other than the regular email I get trying to sell me stuff, I never hear from them at all.

And so Blockbuster has lost another loyal customer.  Because they weren’t listening.  And they weren’t paying attention to my needs.

As direct sellers, we have to be very careful that we don’t make the same mistake.  We are VERY fond of our business model, and very slow to change.  And that’s because it works.  But if we don’t continue to adapt to modern technology, and the way our customers want to shop, we could easily go the way of Blockbuster.  It’s hard to believe, but in this day and age there are still direct selling companies that don’t provide their reps with personal websites for shopping.  There are still companies that aren’t reaching out to customers through the social web.  And yet consumers are telling us, loudly, that they EXPECT to be able to interact with their brands online.

Look at Stella and Dot as an example.  How did this direct sales jewelry company get so big so fast? By taking advantage of the social web, and encouraging its reps to do the same.  They haven’t abandoned direct selling principles.  But they’re smart enough to add online technology to the mix, in order to provide their customers with the shopping experience that fits into their lives.  And as a result, they are on par with the Silpadas and Cookie Lees of the world, who have been around a LOT longer.

Customers aren’t going to bend to your traditions.  At least not very long.  They expect you to adapt to them.  Are you prepared to do so?

Your thoughts?

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

One of the keys to a successful social media marketing effort is good content.  Companies have to put out great content, and so does the salesforce.  The problem is, not everyone is a writer.  And so what you wind up with are a vast range of posts, some of which represent your company well, and some that don’t.

As a company, how do you address this?  Do you outright ban consultants from producing their own content?  Or do you take the other approach, and leave it completely up to the field?  Is there middle ground?

Some vendors have been working on solutions for our industry.  I’ve seen solutions where companies can go so far as to write individual status updates that they can push out to a distributor’s Facebook Page or Twitter account.  The problem with this approach is that everyone in your company has the same status updates, which flies in the face of the “social” aspect of social media.  Nothing personal about a “form letter” update.

I think there are a couple of things that companies can do to tackle the content issue:

  1. Produce sharable content – When your company puts out blog posts, status updates, videos, and other types of content, think about the types of content that would be easy and effective for your salesforce to pass along.  Don’t just send out ads.  Produce value-driven pieces that will be valued by the friends of your salesforce, and then teach your salesforce how to share them through their own social networks.
  2. Provide a content “bank” – While “word for word” canned status updates aren’t terribly effective, it can be helpful to give your salesforce a group of ideas they can choose from when writing status updates and blog posts.  These can be tied to monthly promotions and incentives, new product launches, holidays, and more.  The goal is to provide more than ads, but rather useful tips and advice that will provide value.

Since social media is so content-driven, it’s important for direct sales companies to tackle this issue early on. Then your entire salesforce has the potential to put out content that represents the company as a whole well.

How does your company approach the content issue?  What advice would you give?  Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

I was having a conversation with a colleague during the DSA Be Connected conference in Las Vegas last week about blogging.  He told me that he still hadn’t seen any reason why his direct sales company should have a blog.  Since I believe that a blog can provide a lot of benefits for a direct sales company, today’s post will give you some of the reasons I think companies should consider one.

By the way, if your company IS considering a blog, I refer you to the wise words shared by Lisa Kuftinec from USANA, during the blogging session at the conference.  Paraphrasing Yoda, she said, “Blog or don’t blog….there is no try.”  It’s good advice.  Either you’re going to commit to blogging, and be prepared to provide fresh content regularly, or it’s not worth the effort of setting it up at all.  And the best way you can ensure that the blog happens is to put someone in charge within your organization.

So that said, what are some of the benefits that a blog can bring to your direct sales company?

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Google loves fresh content.  A blog, housed on the same server as your website, gives your site Google juice.  (By the way, when you allow your consultants to blog, and require them to include a link to your website on their sites, those incoming links are another great shot of Google juice for your site.)
  • Official Corporate Response. When things go wrong (which they will, at some point), you need a place where your side of the story can be presented, and where you can be part of the conversation.  The blog is a great vehicle to do that, and can also be a resource that reporters will use when writing about your company.
  • A Great Source of Sharable Content for the Field. If your salesforce is going to use social media effectively, it needs to provide content that is valuable.  And while some of them may be good at coming up with fresh content regularly, they won’t all be.  When you provide great content that your salesforce can easily share, you provide one more tool to help your salesforce market their businesses effectively.  They can also spend more time on selling and recruiting, and less time trying to think up new content to share.
  • Lead Generation. Sometimes people may have an interest in your company, but are not ready to commit to connecting with a consultant.  Capitalize on that moment of attention by giving them something to sign up for on your blog.  It might be a newsletter.  Or it may just be the RSS feed for your blog.  Either way, they’re hearing from you regularly, which makes it a lot more likely they’ll convert in the future.
  • A Friendly “Face” for the Company. In 2010 we’ve seen companies in many industries benefit greatly by getting more social.  As direct selling companies, we can’t ignore this trend.  People want to connect socially with their favorite brands, and a blog provides a great way for you to share some of the fun of your company.  Plus, you can auto-import all your blog content into your Facebook Page, which means fresh content there, too.  Once people like you because they’ve interacted with you, they’re a lot more likely to consider your products and/or opportunity in the future.  A blog can be a great tool to get that done.

We’ve seen companies in our industry take many successful approaches with their blogs.  Companies like USANA speak directly to their distributors.  Companies like Creative Memories are more consumer-focused.  Regardless of the approach, more and more people are expecting to hear from their companies, and don’t feel that a static website is enough.  You can meet that need through a well-planned blog.  Be sure to have a strategy first!  But once you do, a blog can be a valuable part of your overall marketing strategy.

Your thoughts?

image credit: ShashiBellamkonda

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

How to Ask for a Decision With Confidence

This is a mighty tall order for many who are new to sales. Actually, it is often a challenge for seasoned people.  But in virtually every sales situation, it is a necessary piece – the sale just won’t happen without it. Why?  Because before you can “close a sale”, you need to know if the person is interested in what you’re offering. You have to ask!

So it’s imperative that you help your sales force feel comfortable about asking for a decision. I’ve taken many a stab at this one throughout the years.  I’ve explained why this step is important. I’ve offered word choices to make it easier.  I’ve tried to minimize the natural fear of being pushy and of hearing the dreaded word, “no”. But then, I happened upon something that consistently brings it home. It speaks to everyone.  And it’s one simple sentence:  “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask.” Let me show you in context.

Jane: “Mary, you really seemed to enjoy the party this evening.  How would you feel about hosting your own?”

Mary: “No, Jane. I really don’t want to do that”.

Jane: “That’s fine, Mary.  I just wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask.”

Now, there’s a chance that Jane could still turn this into a party, but that’s for another time.  Right now, let’s think about why this sentence works. It all goes back to those basic fears – your sales people don’t want to be pushy and they don’t like to hear “no”.  But this gives them an out – a legitimate reason to ask for a decision. They are just trying to do a good job.  Who could think negatively of that?  Who wouldn’t respect that?

So teach your sales force to ask.  Let them know it’s OK to ask.  Help them feel proud to ask. It will bring them that much closer to success.

image credit Horia Varlan

Lori Moser

Lori Moser built a personal sales organization of thousands, and now helps direct selling companies with the salesforce training they need to succeed.  Lori can help your organization by both creating and delivering training that brings results!  For more information, contact her at lori@luceandassociates.com

There is an abundance of photographers that will claim they can do whatever you need. Photographers at the top of their game tend to specialize. Product photography is one of those specialties. If your company sells products (as opposed to services), it’s vitally important to choose the right photographer to help showcase the features of your products. Here are some things to consider when choosing one.

Product photography requires the unique ability to make something, usually a very simple item, look appealing. It’s more than sophisticated equipment, it’s a trained eye and the talent to make a simple product stand out and appear desirable.

Most forms of product promotion, such as catalogs, magazine advertising, point-of-purchase displays, packaging, and e-commerce websites all start with a photograph. Many elements help create an effective product shot – composition, lighting, camera system, photographic technique, post-processing, and of course, creativity. A professional product photographer successfully combines all of these facets to produce a superior image.

Your quality products deserve the attention of a product photographer that has the experience and skills to ensure that each image sparks something in your customer that moves them closer to a purchase. Conversely, poor or even average photos of your products suggest mediocrity.  They erode the professionalism of your printed collateral or web site. In your customer’s eyes, “excellent images signify excellent products”.

Mark Taulbee

Mark Taulbee is a professional event photographer and commercial product photographer with over 25 years experience in the direct selling industry. Learn more about Mark and how he can help your company with photography at http://www.luceandassociates.com/Mark-Taulbee.html. To view some of his work visit http://www.proshotsevent.com and http://www.taulbeephoto.com.

I’m in the process of doing my holiday shopping. As someone who loves the direct selling industry, I would like to give a lot of that business to direct sellers. Since I simply don’t have time to attend a party for every company I wish to shop with, I am hitting the websites of these companies, and connecting with local consultants.

Now some companies do a good job here. I get to my consultant’s website immediately, can select the items I want, and place my order efficiently. This is great for me, and helps me get this task done. However other websites are brutal. (Sorry, but it’s true.) All I get is the PDF version of the catalog (which is hard to read) so I can’t shop immediately. Some require me to input a lot of information to get matched with a consultant, rather than just giving me a list so I can pick the one I want to work with right now. This is an outdated way of doing business, and it’s going to come back to bite us.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we are living in the “Amazon.com” generation.  People expect immediacy, and they expect ease in their online interactions.  If you make it too hard for me to shop with you, you can be darn sure I won’t.  And then you’ve lost the chance to offer me the opportunity in the future.

We think that by making it hard (or impossible) to order through our websites, we’re making it easier for our consultants to get parties, but I’m sorry to say that this just isn’t so.  Take a look at new direct selling companies.  Do you think ANY of them are preventing people from ordering online?  Of course not! They understand that this is a requirement in order to compete today.  And the consultants they’re trying to attract understand that as well.  More established brands may be getting by with their barriers, but new companies understand that they have to throw the doors wide open if they hope to have a chance.

If you want your company to be relevant in the next 10 years, the old ways of thinking have to be thrown off.  And that means fixing the website.  Online ordering for today’s consumer is a requirement.  And your site MUST be as easy to navigate as Amazon.com or that customer will be on to the next thing.  Choosing to ignore or avoid this change simply deprives our consultants of that business.

The direct sales industry is changing.  We can’t rely on all the old ways of doing business and hope to survive.  This doesn’t mean we should lose our essence of relationship-driven selling and recruiting.  But we must understand that today’s consumer is different from the one of 20 years ago.  If we don’t cater to the consumer, ultimately, we lose our edge.

Will you adapt, or become irrelevant?  The choice is yours.

Your thoughts?

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

If you or your company is hiring a photographer to take pictures at your events, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Documentation, recognition and training photos are fine but there is so much more that the right pictures can do for you.

Here are some things to consider to maximize the impact of your event photography:

  1. Hire a high-energy photographer that understands the direct selling culture. A photographer that knows what to expect and runs to capture it gets pictures that touch the emotions. The more you recognize your sales force with exciting pictures, the more they want to stay with your company and work even harder to be successful.
  2. Ask your photographer to make the pictures available to your sales force. Some consultants put memory books together and show their teammates back home why they need to be at the next convention. Those pictures can also be used as a recruiting tool to show all the fun, comradery, and recognition that your company provides.  And what could be better than getting tons of free advertising via Facebook when consultants show the world all the great things that happened at convention.
  3. The photographer you hire needs to understand the importance of relationships in direct selling and encourage teams to get together for group pictures – large and small.

Event photography has the potential to excite, inspire and motivate. Make sure your photographer is helping you achieve those goals with your people.

Mark Taulbee is a professional event photographer and commercial product photographer with over 25 years experience in the direct selling industry. Learn more about Mark and how he can help your company with photography at http://www.luceandassociates.com/Mark-Taulbee.html. To view some of his work visit http://www.proshotsevent.com and http://www.taulbeephoto.com.